European opposition groups score gains in EC election
Elections among some 200 million voters to select members of the European Parliament turned into sometimes dramatic protest votes against ruling majorities in the 10 countries involved.
An odd alliance of communists, right-wing extremists, environmentalists, and other opposition groups made sometimes significant inroads in the second elections ever to the European Community's (EC) deliberative assembly. Voting took place last Thursday and Sunday.
The campaigns were debated mostly on national and local issues and considered largely as midterm public opinion polls with only indirect importance since they were to send members to the EC Parliament.
From nearly complete results funneled in to monitoring screens at the Parliament headquarters' press center here, it appeared that historic breakthroughs had been made by Italian Communists in the wake of the death their leader Enrico Berlinguer's death during the campaign last week; by a racist splinter group in France; and by so-called ''green'' environmentalists in various countries.
The vote also set the stage for a sharp comeback by Britain's slumping Labour Party under new leadership at the expense of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's Conservatives and the recently rising Liberal-Social Democratic alliance.
Big losers included the French Communist Party, the West German Liberals, and the long-ruling Christian Democrats in Italy, all of which saw a continuation of their popularity plunges of recent years. Drubbings suffered by Georges Marchais's French Communist Party and German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher's Liberals also cast some doubt on their future in the governmental coalitions in their countries.
The French Communists' beating came, in the eyes of many, at the hands of Jean-Marie le Pen and his racist French National Front, which registered the same 10.8 percent of the vote as the Communists. In West Germany, the Greens' 8 percent of the vote surpassed the Liberals' 5 percent.
But in fact, the biggest losers may have been the European Community and its Parliament because of the relatively low turnout of about 50 percent of voters. Participation in the first election five years ago had been an overall 62 percent. The outgoing president of the Parliament, socialist Piet Dankert of the Netherlands, remarked last night that the Parliament was entering ''a critical period'' to prove its credibility in the face of growing public apathy.
Gaston Thorn, the president of the Community's executive Commission in Brussels, also noted after the first results that the poor turnout was ''a great loss . . . a catastrophe.''
As a result of the vote, which took place on Thursday and Sunday, some opposition parties were asking for governmental resignations and embarassed leaders were claiming the vote ''was not a real election.'' One Italian commentator called it merely ''a beauty contest.''
Perhaps the most significant results were in France, Italy, and West Germany. In France, the Socialist Party and right-of-center opposition registered about the same scores as in the previous elections, 20 and 40 percent respectively. But for the Socialist-Communist government coalition, it represented a serious slide from the stunning national election majorities which brought it to power in 1981. Opposition leader Jacques Chirac called the vote an ''unprecedented . . . expression of exasperation'' by the public against government austerity. Another opponent, Jean Lecanuet, called for a dissolution of the French Assembly and new national elections.
The Italian vote was significant because it marked the first time that the opposition Communists surpassed the dominant Christian Democrats, with nearly 33 percent of the vote to 31.2 percent. Many saw it as a surge of public sympathy for the respected deceased Communist leader Enrico Berlinguer.
The German vote, saw a virtual standstill in the voting for the majority Christian Democrats and opposition Social Democrats, and the upheaval of the Liberals by the upstart Greens.
In Britain, the Labour Party under the new leadership of Neil Kinnock rebounded from its low 27 percent of the vote in last year's general election, although Conservatives maintained an overall majority.
In most other member states, except Denmark, Greece, Ireland, governmental majorities lost some votes. In the new Parliament, socialists will increase their status as the largest political grouping, but the majority will remain in the hands of various right-of-center groups.